Celebrated by the Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, and some Buddhists (notably, Newar Buddhists), Diwali, or Deepavali, is the festival of lights. However, this “festival of lights” is just one name people used to represent this festival. So, there are many names for Diwali and Deepavali. For Deepavali, with deep meaning light and avali meaning lights, or rows, we also considered Deepavali to be the row of lights.
Diwali, or Deepavali, celebrates, in the fall, the 15th day from the full moon. Therefore, on November 4, 2021, Diwali, or Deepavali, will take place. On the 13th day, we celebrate the Goddess of Wealth, Laxmi. Not to mention, we clean and purchase gold or metals. We call the 14th day small Deepavali, or Choti Diwali, and the 15th day Big Diwali.
In Hinduism alone—which is considered the world’s oldest living religion, dating back to the second millennium B.C.—there are several versions of the Diwali story that vary among geographic communities. These, however, are all epic tales of victory won by men who were considered incarnations of the Hindu god Vishnu, regarded as the sustainer of the universe, and whose role it is to restore the balance of good and evil in times of trouble.
In northern India, Diwali commemorates Prince Rama's triumphant return to the city of Ayodhya after 14 years of exile because of the plotting the of his evil stepmother—and after a heroic rescue of his wife Sita, an incarnation of the goddess Lakshmi, who had been kidnapped by the rival king Ravana.
In South India, meanwhile, Diwali honors the victory of Lord Krishna over the demon king Narakasura, who had imprisoned 16,000 women in his palace and meted out harsh punishments to any of his subjects who dared stand up against him. And in western India, the festival celebrates Vishnu’s banishment of King Bali—whose immense power had become a threat to the gods—to the underworld.
Not to mention, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists, three minority religions in India, have their own Diwali stories. For Sikhs, whose religion arose in the late 15th century as a movement within Hinduism that is particularly devoted to Vishnu, Diwali commemorates the release of the 17th-century guru Hargobind after 12 years of imprisonment by Mughal emperor Jahangir. Jains, whose ancient religion dates back to the middle of the first century B.C. and also shares many of the beliefs of Hinduism, observe Diwali as the day that Lord Mahavira, the last of the great Jain teachers, reached nirvana. And Buddhists, whose religion emerged in the late 6th century B.C. in what some describe as a reaction to Hinduism, celebrate it as the day the Hindu Emperor Ashoka, who ruled in the third century B.C., converted to Buddhism.
Beyond these stories, Diwali is also a celebration of the Hindu goddess of wealth and good fortune, Lakshmi. In India’s early agrarian society, Diwali coincided with the last harvest before winter—a time to pray for Lakshmi for good fortune. Today, Indian businesses still consider Diwali the first day of the financial new year.
To celebrate Diwali or Deepavali, we clean our house, go shopping, and exchange gifts along with sweets. We do this to strengthen the bonds of love between family and friends. Not to mention, after dinner, we set firecrackers off, or we light candles (Rangoli). In addition, we make the entranceway of our houses be submerged (covered) with candles (Rangoli). Around the house, we also light candles (Rangoli) or lamps. We wear new clothes and cook, primarily, vegetarian food. For example, samosas, gobi (cauliflower) pakora, etc.
Today, over 1 billion Hindus celebrate Diwali. With a significant number of people celebrating, Diwali, or Deepavali is one of the largest and most significant religious observances (festivals) around the world.